TOP TARGETS TO TEST YOUR SKILLS
Master the tips and techniques here and you’ll have no difficulty exploring these objects
RA 12h 20m, dec. +47° 14’
M106 is an 8th-magnitude spiral galaxy in the constellation of Canes Venatici and is highest in evening skies in spring. It’s possible to see M106’s delicate spiral structure within the general elliptical halo in good skies and larger instruments by increasing the magnification until this structure has an apparent size of about 1º. This is the size at which the eye and brain work together best to see dim, low-contrast detail.
THE ESKIMO NEBULA NGC 2392
RA 7h 30m, dec. +20° 53’
The 9th-magnitude Eskimo Nebula in Gemini is seen at its best in winter months. Its high surface brightness allows you to use high powers to best bring out details of the centre, especially the Eskimo’s face, although you will need steady skies. In very good seeing conditions try bumping the power right up by using a Barlow lens with your eyepiece. If the view deteriorates, back off a bit.
THE SWAN NEBULA, M17
RA 18h 22m, dec. –16° 10m
The Swan Nebula lies at the northern edge of Sagittarius and is best in August evenings, when it is low in the southern sky. Use an ultra-high contrast filter and low powers to frame the object nicely with some background sky, but use higher magnifications to pull out details like the finer points of the Swan’s neck on the western side. Practice your averted vision to see the fainter separate nebulous region off the eastern side.
THE ANDROMEDA GALAXY, M31
RA 0h 43m, dec. +41° 21’
The huge Andromeda Galaxy, which is nearly overhead in late summer and autumn, is a great object to practise the use of lower magnifications combined with sweeping the eyepiece to create the movement within the field that will allow you to pick up the edges of the very low gradient eastern (lower) edge. Use higher magnifications to pull out details of the dust lanes on the northern edge.
RA 11h 39m, dec. +21° 56’
Copeland’s Septet is a compact group of small galaxies in Leo, best seen in spring. The galaxies range from mag. +13.7 to +15.2. The brighter members are not too difficult to spot in 8-inch or larger scopes under dark skies but to see all seven members is harder. Good dark adaption and averted vision are essential; also switch to using higher powers to darken the background, improve the contrast and allow the fainter members to be detected.
THE WESTERN VEIL NEBULA, NGC 6960
RA 20h 46m, dec. +30° 46’
The Veil Nebula in Cygnus sits overhead in the summer. The brightest part, around 52 Cygni, is the Western Veil and is 1.5° in length. For the best overall view of the whole object use the minimum useful magnification together with averted vision and an OIII filter to improve the contrast. Experiment with higher powers to see if you can see some of the fine sinuous structure in the heart of this object.